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Edward "Ned" Kelly (June 1854/June 1855 – 11 November 1880) was an Australian bushranger, and, to some, a folk hero for his defiance of the colonial authorities. Kelly was born in Victoriamarker to an Irish convict father, and as a young man he clashed with the police. Following an incident at his home in 1878, police parties searched for him in the bush. After he murdered three policemen, the colony proclaimed Kelly and his gang wanted outlaws. A final violent confrontation with police took place at Glenrowanmarker. Kelly, dressed in home-made plate metal armour and helmet, was captured and sent to jail. He was hanged for murder at Old Melbourne Gaolmarker in 1880. His daring and notoriety made him an iconic figure in Australian history, folk lore, literature, art and film.

Early life

John "Red" Kelly, the father of Ned Kelly, was born and raised in Ireland, where he was convicted of criminal acts sometime during his adulthood. There is uncertainty surrounding the exact nature of his crime as most of Ireland's court records were destroyed during the Irish Civil War. Ian Jones claims that Red Kelly stole two pigs and was an informer, but the claim is contested in Kenneally who said 'Red' was a patriot. Red Kelly was sentenced to seven years of penal servitude and transported to Van Diemen's Landmarker (now Tasmaniamarker), arriving in 1843.

After his release in 1848, Red Kelly moved to Victoria, Australia and found work in Beveridgemarker at the farm of James Quinn. At the age of 30 he married Quinn's daughter Ellen, then 18. Their first child died early, but Ellen then gave birth to a daughter, Annie, in 1853. Seven of their children survived past infancy.

Their first son, Edward (Ned), was born in Beveridgemarker, Victoriamarker just north of Melbournemarker. His date of birth is not known, but it occurred between June 1854 and June 1855.

Ned was baptised by an Augustinian priest, Charles O'Hea. As a boy, he obtained some basic schooling and once risked his life to save another boy, Richard Shelton, from drowning. As a reward he was given a green sash by the boy's family, which he wore under his armour during his final showdown with police in 1880.

The Kellys were suspected many times of cattle or horse stealing, though never convicted. Red Kelly was arrested when he killed and skinned a calf claimed to be the property of his neighbour. He was found innocent of theft, but guilty of removing the brand from the skin and given the option of a twenty-five pound fine or a sentence of six months with hard labour. Without money to pay the fine Red served his sentence in Kilmore gaol, with the sentence having an ultimately fatal effect on his health. The saga surrounding Red, and his treatment by the police, made a strong impression on his son Ned.

Red Kelly died at Avenelmarker, Victoriamarker on 27 December 1866 when Ned was eleven and a half years old. Several months later the Kelly family acquired 80 acres of uncultivated farmland at Eleven Mile Creek near the Gretamarker area of Victoria, which to this day is known as "Kelly Country".

In all, eighteen charges were brought against members of Ned's immediate family before he was declared an outlaw, while only half that number resulted in guilty verdicts. This is a highly unusual ratio for the time, and is one of the reasons that has caused many to posit that Ned's family was unfairly targeted from the time they moved to North-East Victoria. Perhaps the move was necessary because of Ellen's squabbles with family members and her appearances in court over family disputes. Antony O'Brien however argued that Victoria's colonial policing had nothing to do with winning a conviction, rather the determinant of one's criminality was the arrest. Further, O'Brien argued, using the "Statistics of Victoria" crime figures that the region's or family's or national criminality was determined not by individual arrests, but rather by the total number of arrests.

Rise to notoriety

In 1869, the 14-year-old Ned Kelly was arrested for assaulting a Chinese pig farmer named Ah Fook. Ah Fook claimed that he had been robbed by Ned, who stated that Ah Fook had a row with his sister Annie. Kelly spent ten days in custody before the charges were dismissed. From then on the police regarded him as a "juvenile bushranger".

The following year, he was arrested and accused of being an accomplice of bushranger Harry Power. No evidence was produced in court and he was released after a month. Historians tend to disagree over this episode: some see it as evidence of police harassment; others believe that Kelly’s relatives intimidated the witnesses, making them reluctant to give evidence. Ned's grandfather, James Quinn, owned a huge piece of land at the headwaters of the King River known as Glenmore Station, where Power was ultimately arrested. Following Power's arrest it was rumoured that Ned had informed on him and Ned was treated with hostility within the community. Ned wrote a letter to police Sergeant Babington pleading for his help in the matter. The informant was in fact Ned's uncle, Jack Lloyd.

In October 1870, Kelly was arrested again for assaulting a hawker, Jeremiah McCormack, and for his part in sending McCormack's childless wife an indecent note that had calves' testicles enclosed. This was a result of a row earlier that day caused when McCormack accused a friend of the Kellys, Ben Gould, of using his horse without permission. Gould wrote the note, and Kelly passed it on to one of his cousins to give to the woman. He was sentenced to three months' hard labour on each charge.

Upon his release Kelly returned home. There he met Isaiah "Wild" Wright who had arrived in the area on a chestnut mare. The mare had gone missing and since Wright needed to go back to Mansfieldmarker he asked Kelly to find and keep it until his return. Kelly found the mare and used it to go to town. He always maintained that he had no idea that the mare actually belonged to the Mansfield postmaster and that Wright had stolen it. While riding through Greta, Ned was approached by police constable Hall who, from the description of the animal, knew the horse was stolen property. When his attempt to arrest Kelly turned into a fight, Hall drew his gun and tried to shoot him, but Kelly overpowered the policeman and humiliated him by riding him like a horse. Hall later struck Kelly several times with his revolver after he had been arrested. After just three weeks of freedom, the 16-year-old Kelly was sentenced to three years imprisonment along with his brother-in-law Alex Gunn. "Wild" Wright, who had actually stolen the horse, got only eighteen months. After his release from prison in 1874, Ned allegedly fought and won a bare-knuckled boxing match with 'Wild' Wright that lasted 20 rounds.

While Kelly was in prison, his brothers Jim (aged 12) and Dan (aged 10) were arrested by Constable Flood for riding a horse that did not belong to them. The horse had been lent to them by a farmer for whom they had been doing some work, but the boys spent a night in the cells before the matter was cleared.

Two years later, Jim Kelly was arrested for cattle-rustling. He and his family claimed that he did not know that some of the cattle did not belong to his employer and cousin Tom Lloyd. Jim was given a five-year sentence, but as O'Brien pointed out the receiver of the 'stolen stock' James Dixon was not prosecuted as he was 'a gentleman'

In September 1877 Ned was arrested for drunkeness. While being escorted by four policemen he broke free and ran into a shop. The police tried to subdue him but failed and Ned later gave himself up to a Justice of the Peace and was fined. During the incident Constable Lonigan, who Ned was to later shoot dead, "black-balled" him (grabbed and squeezed his testicles). Legend has it that Ned told Lonigan "If I ever shoot a man, Lonigan, it'll be you!".

In October 1877, Gustav and William Baumgarten were arrested for supplying stolen horses to Ned Kelly and were later sentenced in 1878. William served time in Pentridgemarker Prison, Melbourne.

Following Red Kelly's death, Ned's mother, Ellen, had married a Californianmarker named George King, by whom she had three children. He, Ned and Dan became involved in a cattle rustling operation.

The Fitzpatrick Incident

On the 15 April 1878, Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick arrived at Benallamarker suffering from wounds to his left wrist. He claimed that he had been attacked by Ned, Dan, Ellen, their associate Bricky Williamson and Ned's brother-in-law, Bill Skilling. Fitzpatrick claimed that all except Ellen had been armed with revolvers. Williamson and Skilling were arrested for their part in the affair. Ned and Dan were nowhere to be found, but Ellen was taken into custody along with her baby, Alice. She was still in prison at the time of Ned's execution. (Ellen would outlive her most famous son by several decades and died on 27 March 1923.)

The Kellys claimed that Fitzpatrick came into their house to question Dan over a cattle duffing incident. While there, he made a pass at Ellen's daughter Kate. Her mother hit his hand with a coal shovel and the men knocked Fitzpatrick to the floor. They then bandaged his injured wrist, and he had left saying that no real harm had been done. No guns, they claimed, were used during the incident, and Ned was not involved since he had been away in New South Walesmarker. The belief that Ned was in New South Wales is still disputed, although Fitzpatrick's testimony of events is coloured by the fact that he was later dismissed from the force for drunkenness and perjury.

The trial at Beechworth

Ellen Kelly, Skillon and Williamson appeared on 9 October 1878 before Judge Redmond Barry charged with attempted murder and were convicted on Fitzpatrick's unsupported evidence. Barry stated that if Ned were present he would 'give him 15 years'

The Killings at Stringybark Creek

Dan and Ned Kelly doubted they could convince the police of their story. Instead they went into hiding, where they were later joined by friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.

On 25 October 1878, Sergeant Kennedy set off to search for the Kellys, accompanied by Constables McIntyre, Lonigan, and Scanlon. The wanted men were suspected of being in the Wombat Ranges north of Mansfield, Victoria. The police set up a camp near two shepherd huts at Stringybark Creek in a heavily timbered area. A second police party had set off from Greata near the Wangaratta end, with the intention of closing in on Ned in a pincer movement.

The Mansfield team of police under Kennedy on arrival at Stringybark split into two groups: Kennedy and Scanlon went in search of the Kellys, while the others, Lonigan and McIntyre remained to guard their camp. Brown suggested in, Australian Son (1948) that Sgt. Kennedy was tipped off as to the whereabouts of the Kellys. O'Brien (1999) drew attention to the 1881 Royal Commission's questioning of McIntyre, which explored a possibility that Kennedy and Scanlon may have searched for the Kellys to gain a reward for themselves. Jones stated (p. 131) that Kennedy and Scanlon had once split a reward for the arrest of 'Wild Wright'. O'Brien's research focus on the practice of splitting rewards highlighted that it was known as 'going whacks'.

The Mansfield police team (Lonigan and McIntyre) remaining in the base camp fired at parrots, unaware they were only a mile away from the Kelly camp. Alerted by the shooting, the Kellys searched and discovered the well-armed police camped near the "shingle hut" at Stringybark Creek. Although the police were disguised as prospectors, they had pack horses with leather strap arrangements suitable for carrying out bodies.

Ned Kelly and his brother Dan considered their chances of survival against the well-armed party and decided to overpower the two officers, then wait for the two others to return. According to Jones (p. 132) the Kellys knew that a police member (Strahan), from Greta team boasted he would shoot Ned 'like a dog' and Kelly believed these police were that Greta party. He was unaware of the Mansfield group. Ned's plan was for the police to surrender, allowing the Kellys to take their arms and horses. Ned and Dan advanced to the police camp, ordering them to surrender. Constable McIntyre threw his arms up. Lonigan drew his revolver and Ned shot him. Lonigan staggered some distance, and collapsed dead.

When the other two police returned to camp, Constable McIntyre, at Ned's direction, called on them to surrender. Scanlon went for his pistol; Ned fired. Scanlon was killed. Kennedy ran, firing as he sought cover moving from tree to tree. In an exchange of gunfire, Kennedy was mortally shot. Ned fired a fatal shot into Kennedy. McIntyre, in the confusion, escaped on horseback uninjured.

The exact place at Germans Creek where this occurred has only recently been identified. On leaving the scene Ned stole Sergeant Kennedy's handwritten note for his wife and his gold fob watch. Asked later why he stole the watch, Ned replied, "What's the use of a watch to a dead man?" Kennedy's watch was returned to his kin many years later.

In response to these killings the Victorian parliament passed the Felons' Apprehension Act which outlawed the gang and made it possible for anyone to shoot them. There was no need for the outlaws to be arrested and for there to be a trial. The Act was based on the 1865 Act passed in New South Wales which declared Ben Hall and his gang outlaws.

Bank robberies

8000 pound reward notice for the capture of the Ned Kelly gang, 15 February 1879
Following the killings at Stringybark, the gang committed two major robberies, at Euroamarker, Victoriamarker and Jerilderiemarker, New South Walesmarker. Their strategy involved the taking of hostages and robbing the bank safes.


On the 10 December 1878, the gang raided the National Bank at Euroamarker. They had already taken a number of hostages at Faithful Creek station and went to the bank claiming to be delivering a message from McCauley, the station manager. They got into the bank and held up the manager, Scott, and his two tellers. After obtaining all the money available, the outlaws ordered Scott, along with his wife, family, maids and tellers to accompany them to Faithful Creek where they were locked up with the other hostages, who included the station's staff and some passing hawkers and sportsmen.

It is claimed that Ned, posing as a policeman, took one of the men prisoner on the grounds of being the "notorious Ned Kelly". The man was locked up in the storeroom saying that he would report the "officer" to his superiors. It was only then that he was told who his captor was.

The outlaws gave an exhibition of horsemanship which entertained and surprised their hostages. After having supper, and telling the hostages not to raise the alarm for another three hours, they left. The entire crime was carried out without injury and the gang netted £2,260, a large sum in those days and equivalent to around $100,000 today.

In January 1879 police arrested all known Kelly friends and sympathisers and held them without charge for three months. This action caused resentment of the government's abuse of power and led to a groundswell of support for the gang that was a factor in their evading capture for so long.


The raid on Jerilderiemarker is particularly noteworthy for its boldness and cunning. The gang arrived in the town on Saturday 8 February 1879. They broke into the local police station and imprisoned police officers Richards and Devine in their own cell. The outlaws then changed into the police uniforms and mixed with the locals, claiming to be reinforcements from Sydney.

On Monday the gang rounded up various people and forced them into the back parlour of the Royal Mail Hotel. While Dan Kelly and Steve Hart kept the hostages busy with "drinks on the house", Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne robbed the local bank of £2,414. Kelly also burned all the townspeople's mortgage deeds in the bank.

New South Wales issued rewards totaling £4,000. The Victorian Government increased its reward to match making the total reward for the Kelly gang £8,000 (AUS$400,000).

From March 1879 to June 1880 nothing was heard of the gang's whereabouts. In April 1880 a Notice of Withdrawal of Reward was posted by Government. It stated that after July 20, 1880 the Government would "absolutely cancel and withdraw the offer for the reward".

The Jerilderie Letter

Months prior to arriving in Jerilderie, and with help from Joe Byrne, Ned Kelly dictated a lengthy letter for publication describing his view of his activities and the treatment of his family and, more generally, the treatment of Irish Catholics by the police and the English and Irish Protestant squatter.

The Jerilderie Letter, as it is called, is a document of 7,391 words and has become a famous piece of Australian literature. Kelly had written a previous letter (14 December 1878) to a member of Parliamentmarker stating his grievances, but the correspondence had been suppressed from the public. The letter highlights the various incidents that led to him becoming an outlaw (see Rise to notoriety).

The letter was never published and was concealed until re-discovered in 1930. It was then published by the Melbourne Herald.

The handwritten document was donated anonymously to the State Library of Victoriamarker in 2000. Historian Alex McDermott says of the Letter, "... even now it's hard to defy his voice. With this letter Kelly inserts himself into history, on his own terms, with his own voice...We hear the living speaker in a way that no other document in our history achieves..." Kelly's language is colourful, rough and full of metaphors; it is "one of the most extraordinary documents in Australian history".

The National Museum of Australiamarker in Canberra holds publican John Hanlon's transcript of the Jerilderie Letter.

Capture, trial and execution

Kelly in the dock
On 26 June 1880 the Felons' Apprehension Act 612 expired, with the result that not only was the gang's outlaw status no longer in effect but that their arrest warrants also expired. While Ned and Dan still had prior warrants outstanding for the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick, technically Hart and Byrne were free men although the police still retained the right to re-issue the murder warrants.

The gang discovered that Aaron Sherritt, Joe Byrne's erstwhile best friend, was a police informer. On 26 June 1880, the same day their outlaw status expired, Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne went to Sherritt's house and killed him. (Ian Jones, authority on the Kelly Gang, has made a compelling case in his book, The Fatal Friendship that the police manipulated events so that Sherritt appeared a traitor and to provoke the gang into emerging from hiding to dispose of him.) The four policemen who were living openly with him at the time hid under the bed and did not report the murder until late the following morning. This delay was to prove crucial since it upset Ned's timing for another ambush.

The Kelly Gang arrived in Glenrowanmarker on 27 June forcibly taking about seventy hostages at the Glenrowan Inn. They knew that a passenger train carrying a police detachment was on its way and ordered the rail tracks pulled up in order to cause a derailment.

The gang members were equipped with armour that was tough enough to repel bullets (but left the legs unprotected). It is not known exactly who made the armour, although it was likely forged from stolen or donated plough mouldboards. Each man's armour weighed about 96 pounds (44 kg); all four had helmets, and Byrne's was said to be the most well done, with the brow reaching down to the nose piece, almost forming two eye slits. All wore grey cotton coats reaching past the knees over the armour.

While holed up in the Glenrowan Inn, the Kelly gang's attempt to derail the police train failed due to the actions of a released hostage, schoolmaster Thomas Curnow. Curnow convinced Ned to let him go and then as soon as he was released he alerted the authorities by standing on the railway line near sunrise and waving a lantern wrapped in his red scarf. The police then stopped the train before it would have been derailed and laid siege to the inn at dawn on Monday 28 June.

The accounts of who opened fire first are contradictory. According to Superintendent Hare he was close to the inn when he saw the flash of a rifle and felt his left hand go limp. Three more flashes followed from the veranda and then whoever had first fired at him stepped back and began to fire again after which the police opened fire. Kelly testified in court that he was dismounting from his horse when a bolt in his armour failed. While he was fixing the bolt the police fired two volleys into the inn. Kelly claimed that as he walked towards the inn the police fired a third volley with the result that one bullet hit him in the foot and another in the left arm. It was at that moment he claimed his gang began returning the fire. Kelly now walked in what police called a "lurching motion" towards them from away. Due to the restrictions of his armour, and now only being able to hold his revolving rifle in one hand, he had to hold the rifle at arm’s length to fire, and claimed he fired randomly, two shots to the front and two shots to his left. Constable Arthur fired three times, hitting Kelly once in the helmet and twice in his body, but despite staggering from the impacts he continued to advance. Constables Phillips and Healy then fired with similar effect. Kelly's lower limbs, however, were unprotected, and when from the police line he was shot repeatedly in the legs. As he fell he was hit by a shotgun blast that injured his hip and right hand. The other Kelly Gang members died in the hotel; Joe Byrne perished due to loss of blood from a gunshot wound that severed his femoral artery as he allegedly stood at the bar pouring himself a glass of whisky, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart committed suicide (according to witness Matthew Gibney). No autopsy was done to determine cause of death, as their bodies were burnt when the police set fire to the inn. The police suffered only one minor injury: Superintendent Francis Hare, the senior officer on the scene, received a slight wound to his wrist, then fled the battle. For his cowardice the Royal Commission later suspended Hare from the Victorian Police Forcemarker. Several hostages were also shot, two fatally.

The body of Joe Byrne was taken to Benalla and strung up as a curiosity for photographers and spectators. His body was not claimed by his family, and he was buried by police in an unmarked grave in Benallamarker Cemetery. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were buried in unmarked graves by their families in Gretamarker Cemetery east of Benalla.

Ned Kelly survived to stand trial, and was sentenced to death by the Irish-born judge Justice Redmond Barry. This case was extraordinary in that there were exchanges between the prisoner Kelly and the judge, and the case has been the subject of attention by historians and lawyers. When the judge uttered the customary words "May God have mercy on your soul", Kelly replied "I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go". At Ned's request, his photographic portrait was taken and he was granted farewell interviews with family members. His mother's last words to Ned were reported to be "Mind you die like a Kelly".

He was hanged on 11 November 1880 at the Melbourne Gaol for the murder of Constable Lonigan. Although two newspapers (The Age and The Herald) reported Kelly's last words as "Such is life", another source, Kelly's gaol warden, wrote in his diary that when Kelly was prompted to say his last words, the prisoner opened his mouth and mumbled something that he couldn't hear. Sir Redmond Barry died of the effects of a carbuncle on his neck on 23 November 1880, twelve days after Kelly.

Although the exact number is unknown, it is estimated that a petition to spare Kelly's life attracted over 30,000 signatures.

Kelly Gang Armour

All four suits consisted of a breast-plate, back-plate, and a helmet. Joe Byrne's suit was the only one without an apron to protect the groin and thighs, as a result he died from a shot to the groin. Ned's suit was the only one to also have an apron at the back. The suits separate parts were strapped together on the body while the helmet was separate and sat on the shoulders allowing it to be removed easily when the need arose. Padding is only known from Ned's armour and it is not clear if the other suits were similarly padded. Ned wore a padded skull cap and his helmet also had internal strapping so his head could take some of the weight. All the men wore dustcoats over the armour.

The Victorian Police had been told three times by informants of the existence of the armour and that it was capable of deflecting bullets but Police Superintendents Hare and Sadlier both dismissed the information as "nonsense" and "an impossibility". Despite these warnings none of the police realised the gang were wearing armour until after the siege was over. Until Ned fell the police even questioned whether he was human. Constable Arthur, who was closest, thought he was a "huge blackfellow wrapped in a blanket", Constable Dowsett exclaimed it was "old Nick" and Senior Constable Kelly called out "Look out, boys, it’s the bunyip. He’s bullet-proof!". Constable Gascoigne, who recognised Ned's voice, told Superintendent Sadlier he had "fired at him point blank and hit him straight in the body. But there is no use firing at Ned Kelly; he can't be hurt". Although aware of the information supplied by the informant prior to the siege, Sadlier later wrote that even after Gascoigne's comment "no thought of armour" had occurred to him.

Following the siege of Glenrowan the media reported the events and use of armour around the world. The gang were admired in military circles and Arthur Conan Doyle commented on the gang's imagination and recommended similar armour for use by British infantry. The police announcement to the Australian public that the armour was made from ploughshares was ridiculed, disputed, and deemed impossible even by blacksmiths.

After Ned Kelly's capture there was considerable debate over having the armour destroyed, all four disassembled suits of armour were eventually stored by Police Superintendent Hare in Melbourne. Hare gave Ned Kelly's armour to Sir William Clarke, and it was later donated to the State Library of Victoriamarker. Joe Byrne's suit of armour was kept by Hare and now belongs to his descendants. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart's armour are still owned by the Victorian Police force. As no effort was made to maintain the armour's integrity while stored, the suits were reassembled by guesswork. In 2002 several parts were identified from photographs taken shortly after the siege and reunited with their original suits. As a result the State Library of Victoria was able to exchange their backplate, which was found to be Steve Hart's breastplate, for Ned Kelly's own backplate, making their suit currently the most original. In January 2002 all four suits were displayed together for an exhibition in the Old Melbourne Gaolmarker.

According to legend the armour was made on a Stringybark log by the gang themselves. Due to the quality of the workmanship and the difficulties involved in forging, historians and blacksmiths had long believed the armour could only have been made by a professional blacksmith in a forge. A professional blacksmith would have heated the steel to over , before shaping it. A bush forge would only be able to get the metal to , which would make shaping the metal very difficult. In 2003 Byrne's suit of armour was disassembled and tested by ANSTO at the Lucas Heightsmarker nuclear reactor in Sydney to determine how the armour was made and what temperatures were involved. The results of testing indicated the heating of the metal was "patchy". Some parts had been bent cold while other parts had been subjected to extended periods in a heat source of not much more than , which is consistent with a bush forge. The quality of forging was also determined to be less than believed, and it is now considered unlikely to have been done by a blacksmith. The method now widely accepted is that mouldboards were heated in a makeshift bush forge and then beaten straight over a green log before being cut into shape and riveted together to form each individual piece.

Ned Kelly's remains and grave

Following his execution Kelly's body was dissected, with his head and organs removed for study. In line with the practice of the day, as no records are kept regarding the disposal of a condemned person's body or body parts, Kelly's remains may, or may not have, been buried in Melbourne Gaol'smarker mass graveyard. Kelly's head was given to phrenologists for study then returned to the police, who used it for a time as a paperweight. In 1929, Melbourne gaol was closed, and the bodies in its graveyard were transferred to Pentridge prisonmarker. During the transfer of bodies, workers stole skeletal parts from a grave marked with the initials EK in the belief they belonged to Kelly. The site foreman retrieved the skull and gave it to the Australian Institute of Anatomymarker in Canberramarker. The skull in the possession of police was also given, at some unknown date, to the Institute of Anatomy in Canberra who, in 1971, gave it to the National Trust. It was displayed at the Old Melbourne Gaol until it was stolen in December 1978. Tom Baxter, a farmer from West Australiamarker claims he has the skull stolen in 1978 but has refused to hand it over for identification or burial. Despite attempts, the police have been unable to locate the stolen skull. The skull does not match photographs of the stolen skull, and a facial reconstruction based on a cast made from the skull in Baxter's possession does not resemble Kelly, but does resemble the death mask of Ernest Knox, who was executed in 1894 for murder. If this is indeed the skull stolen in 1978, it means that Kelly's skull was on display originally, but was taken off display at some time and thereafter replaced with Knox's skull.

On 9 March 2008 it was announced that Australian archaeologists believed they had found Kelly's grave on the site of Pentridge prison. The bones were uncovered at a mass grave, and Kelly's are among those of 32 felons who had been executed by hanging. Jeremy Smith, a senior archaeologist with Heritage Victoria said, "We believe we have conclusively found the burial site but that is very different from finding the remains."

Forensic pathologists have examined the bones, which are much decayed and jumbled with the remains of others, making identification difficult. However, Kelly's remains were identified by an old wrist injury and by the fact that his head was removed for phrenological study. Mrs. Ellen Hollow, Kelly's 62-year-old great-niece, offered to supply her own DNA to help identify Kelly's bones.

The Kelly aftermath and the lessons

After Ned Kelly's death, the Victorian Royal Commission (1881-83) into the Victorian Police Force led to many changes to the nature of policing in the colony. The Commission took 18 months and its findings put many of the police involved in the Kelly hunt in a less than favourable light, yet neither did it excuse or sanction the actions of the Kelly Gang. As a result of the Commission a number of members of the Victorian police, including senior staff, were reprimanded, demoted, or dismissed.

Some dismiss the Kelly Outbreak as simply a spate of criminality. These included: Boxhall, The Story of Australian Bushrangers (1899), Henry Giles Turner, History of the Colony of Victoria (1904) and several police writers of the time like Hare and more modern writers like Penzig (1988) who wrote legitimising narratives about law and order and moral justification.

Others, commencing with Kenneally (1929), and McQuilton (1979) and Jones (1995), perceived the Kelly Outbreak and the problems of Victoria's Land Selection Acts post-1860s as interlinked. McQuilton identified Kelly as the "social bandit" who was caught up in unresolved social contradictions — that is, the selector-squatter conflicts over land — and that Kelly gave the selectors the leadership they so lacked. O'Brien (1999) identified a leaderless rural malaise in Northeastern Victoria as early as 1872-73, around land, policing and the Impounding Act.

Though the Kelly Gang was destroyed in 1880, for almost seven years a serious threat of a second outbreak existed because of major problems around land settlement and selection (McQuilton, Ch. 10).

McQuilton suggested two police officers involved in the pursuit of the Kelly Gang — namely, Superintendent John Sadleir (1833–1919),[24020] author of Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer, and Inspector W.B. Montford — averted the Second Outbreak by coming to understand that the unresolved social contradiction in Northeastern Victoria was around land, not crime, and by their good work in aiding small selectors.

The Kellys and the modern era

Ned's mother Ellen died in 1923 at the age of 92, by which time planes, cars and radio had been introduced to Australia. Photographs have recently been discovered showing her sitting in a motor car.

November 2007 auctioning of claimed Kelly revolver

On 13 November 2007, a weapon claimed to be Constable Fitzpatrick's service revolver was auctioned for approximately $70,000 in Melbourne and is now located in Westbury Tasmania.

The vendor's representative, Tom Thompson, claimed that the revolver was left by Constable Fitzpatrick at the Kelly house after the melee in 1878, given to Kate Kelly, and then (much later) found in a house or shed in Forbes, New South Walesmarker.

According to press reports in the days following the auction, firearms experts assessed the revolver as being of a design (a copy of an English Webley .32 revolver) not manufactured until 1884, well after the claimed provenance had the weapon changing hands from Constable Fitzpatrick to the Kellys. In addition, a stamp on the gun which the auction catalogue interpreted as R*C, an indication that the revolver was of the Royal Constabulary, was instead read as a European manufacturer's proof mark.

Further, evidence by Constable Fitzpatrick said that when he left the Kelly homestead after the incident, he had his revolver and handcuffs; (cited in Keith McMenomy (1984), p. 69.)

Cultural effect

One of the gaols in which Kelly was incarcerated has become the Ned Kelly Museum in Glenrowan, Victoria, and many weapons and artifacts used by him and his gang are in exhibit there. Since his death, Kelly has become part of Australian folklore, the language and the subject of a large number of books and several films. The Australian term "as game as Ned Kelly" entered the language and is a common expression.

Films included the first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (Australia, 1906), another with Mick Jagger in the title role (1970), and more recently Ned Kelly (2003) starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush. A TV mini series of six episodes The Last Outlaw (1980) highlighted the plight of the selector and the social conflicts and battles between selector and squatters. During the 1960s, Ned Kelly graduated from folk lore into the academic arena. His story and the social issues around land selection, squatters, national identity, policing and his court case are studied at universities, seminars and lectures.

Ned Kelly as a political icon

In the time since his execution, Ned Kelly has been mythologised among some into a Robin Hood, a political revolutionary and a figure of Irish Catholic and working-class resistance to the establishment and British colonial ties. It is claimed that Kelly's bank robberies were to fund the push for a "Republic of the North-East of Victoria", and that the police found a declaration of the republic in his pocket when he was captured, which has led to him being seen as an icon by some in the Australian republicanism cause.

Ned Kelly captures President Kruger and wins the Boer War, 1900

In early June 1900, when the Boer Transvaalmarker capital Pretoriamarker fell to the British assault, President Paul Kruger and his government fled east on a train and evaded capture. In the Melbourne Punch of 21 June 1900, a cartoon titled "BAIL-UP!" depicted the Kelly Gang capturing Kruger's train and seizing Kruger's gold, thus winning the Boer War for the British. This is among the first of the Australian political cartoons to invoke Kelly's memory.

Ned Kelly the honest bushranger, 1915

During the tough days during World War I cartoons in the Queensland Worker, later re-printed in Labor Call, 16 September 1915, showed profiteers robbing Australian citizens, while Ned Kelly in armour watched on saying; "Well Well! I never got as low as that, and they hung me."

Ned Kelly - invoked to fight the Japanese in 1942

During World War II, Clive Turnbull published Ned Kelly: Being His Own Story of His Life and Crimes. In the introduction Turnbull invoked the Kelly historical memory to urge Australians to adopt the Kelly spirit and resist the oppression of the potential invader.

Ned Kelly in iconography

The distinctive homemade armour Kelly wore for his final unsuccessful stand against the police was the subject of a famous series of paintings by Sidney Nolan.

Jerilderiemarker, one of the towns Kelly robbed, built its police station featuring numerous structural components mimicking his distinctive face plate. Some examples include walls made of differently toned bricks making up his image to storm drains with holes cut in them to form it.

An image of Kelly, based on Sidney Nolan's imagery, appeared in the "Tin Symphony" segment of the opening ceremony for the year 2000 Olympic Games. He has also appeared in advertisements, most notably in television spots for Bushell's tea. A man drinking tea in the iconic suit of armour is the focal point of part of the ad.

Australia Post produced a stamp/envelope set The Siege Of Glenrowan - Centenary 1980 to mark the capture of Kelly 100 years before. The 22-cent 'stamp' printed on the envelope shows Kelly 'at bay' wearing his armoured helmet and Colt revolver in hand.


In the 1990s Britishmarker ads for the cereal Weetabix implied that it made the eater so strong and powerful that others were terrified of him. One such TV ad had Kelly in full armour in a hut under siege by the police. As the officer in charge calls for his surrender, Kelly emerges from the hut with a spoon and cereal bowl, threatening to "eat the Weetabix" if they make a false move. The officer tells his men to stand back since Kelly is not bluffing. One of them cocks his rifle, whereupon Kelly brings the spoon to his mouth only to find that the mouthpiece in his helmet is too small for the spoon. Thus he cannot carry out his threat and is forced to surrender.

Ned Kelly in fiction

A. Bertram Chandler's novel Kelly Country (1983) is an alternate history in which Kelly leads a successful revolution; the result is that Australia becomes a world power.

Our Sunshine (1991) by Robert Drewe was the basis of the 2003 film, Ned Kelly, that starred Heath Ledger.

Peter Carey's novel True History of the Kelly Gang was published in 2000, and was awarded the 2001 Booker Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Films and television

The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) now recognised as the world's first feature-length film had a then-unprecedented running time of 60 minutes. One of the actual suits worn by the gang (believed to be Joe Byrne's) was borrowed from a private collection and worn in the film. Two pieces of film totalling 21 minutes still exist and one piece includes the key scene of the Kelly's last stand.

Harry Southwell wrote, directed and produced three films based on the Kelly Gang: The Kelly Gang (1920), When the Kellys Were Out (1923) and When the Kellys Rode (1934), as well as the unfinished, A Message to Kelly (1947).

The Glenrowan Affair was produced by Rupert Kathner in 1951, featuring the exploits of Kelly and his "wild colonial boys" on their journey of treachery, violence, murder and terror, told from the perspective of an aging Dan Kelly. It starred the famous Carlton footballer Bob Chitty as Ned Kelly. It was one of the last films to portray him with an Australian accent.

In 1967, independent filmmaker Garry Shead directed and produced Stringybark Massacre, an avant garde re-creation of the murder of the three police officers at Stringybark Creek.

The next major film of the Kelly story was Ned Kelly (1970), starring Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and directed by Tony Richardson. It was not a success and during its making it led to a protest by Australian Actors Equity over the importation of Jagger, with complaints from Kelly family descendants and others over the film being shot in New South Walesmarker, rather than in the Victoria locations where most of the events actually took place.

Ian Jones and Bronwyn Binns wrote a script for a four-part television mini-series, The Last Outlaw 1980, which they co-produced. The series premiered on the centenary of the day that Kelly was hanged. The film's detailed historical accuracy distinguished it from many other Kelly films. Actor John Jarratt starred as Kelly.

Yahoo Serious wrote, directed and starred in the 1993 satire film Reckless Kelly as a descendant of Ned Kelly.

In 2003, Ned Kelly, a $30 million budget movie about Kelly's life was released. Directed by Gregor Jordan, and written by John M. McDonagh, it starred Heath Ledger as Kelly, along with Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, and Naomi Watts. Based on Robert Drewe's book Our Sunshine, the film covers the period from Kelly's arrest for horse theft as a teenager to the gang's armour-clad battle at Glenrowan. It attempts to portray the events from the perspectives of both Kelly and of the authorities responsible for his capture and prosecution. It was not a success; one review dismissed it as fiction.

That same year (2003) a low budget satire movie called Ned was released. Written, directed and starring Abe Forsythe, it depicted the Kelly gang wearing fake beards and tin buckets on their heads.

In 2008 the DC Comics comic arc Batman RIP introduced a Batman villain named Swagman who appears identical to Ned Kelly in his armour.

Bush poems and verse

Many poems and ditties emerged during the Kelly era (1878-80) relating their exploits. Some were later put to music. Stringybark Creek (below) was often sung during the Outbreak. Offenders caught chanting or singing this piece were fined £2 or £5, in default one or two months.

:::Stringybark Creek
::A sergeant and three constables
::Set out from Mansfield town
::Near the end of last October
::For to hunt the Kellys down;
::So they travelled to the Wombat,
::And thought it quite a lark,
::And they camped upon the borders of
::A creek called Stringybark.

::They had grub and ammunition there
::To last them many a week.
::Next morning two of them rode out,
::All to explore the creek.
::Leaving McIntyre behind them at
::The camp to cook the grub,
::And Lonigan to sweep the floor
::And boss the washing tub.



  • In 1971, US country singer Johnny Cash wrote and recorded the song "Ned Kelly" for his album The Man in Black.
  • The Australian band "The Kelly Gang" consisted of Jack Nolan, Scott Aplin, Rick Grossman (bassist for Hoodoo Gurus) and Rob Hirst (drummer for Midnight Oil) and recorded one album Looking for the Sun (2004) which has one of Sydney Nolan's iconic "Ned Kelly" series as its album cover.
  • "Shelter for my Soul" was written and recorded by Powderfinger's Bernard Fanning for the 2003 film Ned Kelly. It was written from Kelly's perspective on death row and played over the movie's closing credits.
  • "888" was written and recorded by Melbourne Celt/Punk band The Currency. It has a reference to the Old Melbourne Gaol. And its lyrics say "It says here, Ned's parting words, it says here, such is life".
Other songs about Ned Kelly include those by Paul Kelly ("Our Sunshine" (1999)), Slim Dusty ("Game as Ned Kelly" and "Ned Kelly Isn't Dead"), Ashley Davies ("Ned Kelly" (2001)), Waylon Jennings ("Ned Kelly" (1970)), Redgum ("Poor Ned" (1978)), Midnight Oil ("If Ned Kelly Was King" (1983)), The Whitlams ("Kate Kelly" (2002)), and Trevor Lucas ("Ballad of Ned Kelly", performed by Fotheringay on their eponymous album). He was also referred to in the Midnight Oil song "Mountains of Burma" (1990) ("The heart of Kelly's country cleared").Also one by Rolf Harris.


  1. There is no record of Ned's birth, baptism or even where he was born. Ned believed he was born in mid 1855 while officials believed his birth was in 1854.
  2. J. J. Kenneally, The Inner History of the Kelly Gang, p. 17.
  3. The boy's great-grandson coincidentally became an Australian Rules footballer, Ian "Bluey" Shelton and played 91 first-grade games for Essendon from 1959 to 1965 — Bluey was "as game as Ned Kelly", and played his last season with Essendon with only one eye, following a tractor accident on his farm at Avanel.[1] [2] [3][4]
  4. Jones, p. 25
  5. O'Brien, pp. 12–16
  6. O'Brien, pp. 13–15.
  7. as described by Kelly himself in The Jerilderie Letter
  8. O'Brien, 'Awaiting Ned Kelly',p. 69.
  9. Kenneally, p. 44.
  10. An Illustrated History of the Kelly Gang by Alec Brierley, published in 1979
  11. Clause 10 of the Act held that the Act was to remain in force until the prorogation of the following sitting of parliament when it could be either continued by a further Act of Parliament, or allowed to expire. In December 1879 the Act was extended by Parliament until the next session of parliament dissolved which occurred on 26 June 1880. Superintendent Hare later testified before the enquiry that he knew the gang were no longer outlaws at the time of the seige so it is assumed that the majority of the police at Glenrowan were also aware of this. The behavior of the Kelly gang indicates that they did not know when, or even if, the Act had expired.[5]
  12. J.J. Kenneally, pp. 190–191
  13. The Kelly Armour Ned Kelly Bushranger
  14. Piecing Together the Past: The Kelly Armour Exchange State Library of Victoria January 2003
  15. Kelly Gang Armour Australian Broadcasting Corporation August 21, 2003
  16. Testing Joe Byrne's Armour Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)
  17. Ned's missing grave Ned Kelly Bushranger
  18. Grave of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly said found
  19. The Times, March 10, 2008
  20. Gibb (1982)
  21. C. Turnbull (1942) and Hobsbawm (1972)
  22. O'Brien (2006)
  23. Wilcox, p. 103.
  24. (J. Beaumont, Australia's War 1914–18, 1995.)
  25. Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, The who's who and what's what of the Opening Ceremnony,
  26. David Fickling, Ned Kelly, the legend that still torments Australia, The Observer, 30 November 2003
  27. Max Brown, Australian Son, p. 81.
  28. Max Brown, Australian Son, pp. 80-81.

See also


  • Sadleir, J., Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer, George Robertson & Co., (Melbourne), 1913. (Facsimile reprint, Penguin Books, 1973, ISBN 0-140-70037-4)
  • (historical fiction with lots of Kelly oral and histories in a twisting & turning plot)
  • (plus reprints)(a sound pro-Kelly history of the events)
  • 'Cameron Letter', 14 December 1878, in Meredith, J. & Scott, B. Ned Kelly After a Century of Acrimony, Lansdowne, Sydney, 1980, pp. 63–66. (Ned Kelly's own words)
  • (Chapter 1. Ned Kelly's view of his world and others)
  • (a police perspective of the 'criminal class')
  • (wide ranging world wide history on social bandits in which he argues that Ned Kelly can be better understood)
  • (a comprehensive and well researched piece of history and events)
  • (plus many reprints) (the first pro-Kelly piece of literature)
  • (an insight into the famous Jerilderie Letter)
  • (lots of photos from the era, photos of records etc. a sound research piece)
  • McQuilton, John, The Kelly Outbreak 1788–1880; The geographical dimension of social banditry, 1979. (among the most important academic works, which expands on Hobsbawm; links the unresolved land problems to the Kelly Outbreak)
  • ( a pro-police/establishment piece)
  • (is now hard to locate but it contains a wide selection of research documents and commentary for university level history students)
  • ( very hard to locate, but Ned Kelly become a national figure)
  • (has a cartoon of 1900 depicting Ned Kelly and the gang capturing The Boer President Paul Kruger)
  • O'Brien, Phil (2002) "101 Adventures that got me Absolutely Nowhere" Vol 2 (p. 92 A resemblance to Ned Kelly's makeshift body armour of a child with a pot overturned on his head)
  • Keith Dunstan, Saint Ned, (1980), chronicles lesser known aspects of Ned Kelly's life, whilst discussing the rise of the 'Kellyana' industry.

Further reading


  • O'Brien, Antony (2006) Bye-Bye Dolly Gray, Artillery Publishing, Hartwell. (Though this work is set 20 years after the Ned's death it contains insights into the Kelly story)
  • Upfield, Arthur. (1960) Bony and the Kelly Gang,Pan Books, London. (Upfield's famous fictional character, Inspector Boney, clashes with a new Kelly Gang)

Unpublished Kelly theses

  • Morrissey, Douglas. "Selectors, Squatters and Stock Thieves: A Social History of the Kelly Country", PhD, La Trobe (in Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Victoria)
  • O'Brien, Antony. "Awaiting Ned Kelly: Rural Malaise in Northestern Victoria 1872-73", B.A. (Hons), Deakin University, 1999 (sighted in Burke Museum, Beechworth) (See. p. 45, re Royal Commission questions)

External links

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